In Parasha Behar, we learn of the Shmittah year. After six days of the week, we rest. After six years of being worked, the Land (literally) of Israel rests. During the seventh year, we are not permitted to plant or work the land, but we can harvest any crops that grow on the land without our preparation. Also, people who contracted themselves as indentured servants – somewhat misleadingly translated as “slaves” – were freed of their obligations to their “master” during the seventh year.
And after seven repetitions of the Shmittah year, or 49 years, we have an additional year of rest, the Yovel, or Jubilee year. During the Yovel, land that had been sold during the preceding 49 years reverted to its original owner.
Recall that when the Children of Israel settled the land, each tribe was given specific territories, and the members of the tribes were assigned lands within the tribe’s territory. This Yovel practice was also a rest. Those who had to sell their lands were given a rest from poor economic circumstances. People kept this arrangement fair by paying a smaller price for land the closer they were to the Yovel year.
This system came with a promise from God. If the land was not tended and planted in the seventh year, it took two more years to plant and grow a crop, so the produce of the sixth year had to last for three years. God told us, “I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period.” (Leviticus 25:21)
Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the author of the books called Chasem Sofer, who lived from 1762-1839) taught that this mitzvah and the promise of a harvest that would supply food for three years was proof of the divine authorship of Torah, because no human could guarantee such a result.
It was an early lesson in that great Scout practice, conserving our natural resources, and that great lesson of the Torah, all things need rest.